Canning is a method of using heat and airtight containers to preserve food as nearly as possible in the condition in which it is served when freshly cooked. It is a desirable and economical method of preserving many

foods so that their use can be distributed over seasons and to places where they are not available fresh.


--Stanley, L. & Stienbarger, M. C. (1936). Home canning of fruits, vegetables, and meats. United States Department of Agriculture: Farmers Bulletin, 1762. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/CAT87205286

 Home Canning of Fruits and Vegetables, 1921In comparison to drying, curing, pickling, salting, cold storage, and freezing, canning is a relatively new method of food preservation. During canning, food is preserved through heat processing and storage in sealed airtight containers. This process was developed by Nicolas Appert of France during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1795, Napoleon’s government offered an award of 12,000 francs for the invention of a food preservation method suitable for sustaining large quantities of French troops both on land and at sea. Appert won the award in 1809 (VanGarde and Margy Woodburn, 1994).

Home canning in the United States made a pronounced appearance during World War I, maintained a steady following through the Great Depression, peaked during World War II, suffered a substantial decline after the war, and has been regaining popularity since the 1970’s.  

"How Did We Can?" is made up of five smaller exhibits, Canning Techniques, Consequences of Improper Canning, Evolution of Canning Equipment, Canning Through the World Wars, and Home Canning: Post World War II to Present, that relate to different aspects of home canning. Each exhibit presents relevant excerpts from canning articles, an overview of the topic, and links to full-text digital National Agricultural Library (NAL) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) materials. NAL holds many digital materials relevant to all of these topics. In addition to highlighting a topic related to food safety, providing means of access to these full-text books, articles, and reports is one of the reasons "How Did We Can?" was created.

This exhibit contains over 100 selected full-text digital documents, articles, and images documenting the progression of canning practices in the United States during the 20th century.

Some of the items featured here were published nearly a century ago. Therefore, please do not assume that all of the content reflects current scientific knowledge, policies, or practices. All views expressed in these items are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the USDA or the NAL.

Unless otherwise indicated, all materials contained in this exhibit are either in the public domain due to copyright expiration or because they are works produced by employees of the U.S. Government as part of their official duties and thus are not copyrighted within the United States.

This exhibit was written by Taira Sullivan and designed by Emily Marsh, Ph.D., MLS.

Please contact NAL if you have any questions about this site.